New reviews

 

 

It’s time for another assortment of critiques. I’m surprised that it’s such a long time since the last one. Mea culpa. Anyway, the need for fellowship among writers is as great as it ever was. There’s nothing that boosts an author like an honest review. In a way, it doesn’t matter whether it’s good or bad. Mind you, there is a big difference between a critical and a malicious review. In my opinion, a severe review can show as much interest in the book as a placid one, provided it clarifies the reasons why the reader didn’t enjoy what he or she read.

We can learn from harsh critiques, but we enjoy the agreeable ones. Perhaps we also learn something from benevolent reviews, but we shouldn’t dismiss unfavourable opinions. After all, we can’t please everybody. We shouldn’t even try. For any author, the main issue is that we touched a nerve. Writers get fired up when somebody communicates their thoughts about what they’ve written.

In other words: read our books. If they awaken feelings, good or bad? Tell us about it.

Personally, I believe that short reviews make more sense than longwinded ones. For instance, I see little reason to give an outline of the book: most authors don’t want their readers to know every twist and turn before they immerse themselves in their story. So, if you want to give an idea of the plot: beware of giving away too much. In other words, don’t hesitate to write one sentence and leave it at that. Sometimes, that might sum up your judgement better than many words.

Without further ado: here are my latest reviews.

 

 

Sue Shepherd, Can’t Get You Out of my Head

Wonderful and surprising

Can’t get who out of your mind? My first reaction to Can’t Get You out of My Mind was incredulity — my second — being intrigued. Shepherd has written a beautiful and thoughtful novel that remains with the reader for a long time. The concept is simple: the result is a speculative narrative. Shepherd engages her readers and makes them root for her heroine. A highly enjoyable book.

 

 

Karen Eisenbrey, Daughter of Magic

A coming of age tale.

Dreams and reality compete for the central character’s attention. Daughter of a sorcerer and a sensitive healer with magic ability, Luskell is unwilling to take up her inheritance. From here the narrative develops. Unfortunately, the first part is unclear through the author’s handling of a complex concept but, towards the middle of the book, things fall into place and the mosaic becomes a clear picture. Once the scene is set, the main character and her helpers take over and show their merit, their thoughts and emotions. Would it have been better if the protagonist had been in focus throughout? This is a moot question. All in all: an engaging journey.

 

 

Jacqueline Pirtle, 365 Days of Happiness

Happiness is a Piece of Cake

We’re all born to win, but it is only too easy to get bogged down by life. Pirtle has written a book to help weary men and women to get the sparkle back. The author insists that a course of 365 exercises will make miracles happen. It is a wholehearted and passionate effort to help people help themselves. Whether it will help is up to the individual reader. For my own part, I can only add that singing and dancing certainly help people lay off their worries, at least, for a time. Is there any miracle treatment for unhappiness? Only if one accepts and comes to term with living in a world fraught with misery. The upside is that this earth still is a beautiful place. Five stars for the author’s enthusiasm.

 

 

Keith Dixon, Storey

Brilliantly written

Hard-boiled criminals take centre stage in this dramatic caper. This is a page turner, entertaining and modern. I felt in good hands: Dixon knows his craft and takes the reader through the plot with conviction and — charisma. Highly recommended for everybody who likes to sit at the edge of their chair while they read.

 

 

Lisa Hofmann, Trading Darkness

High fantasy, a compelling fairy-tale

Here we have a classic German fairy tale, in the style of Grimm and Hoffmann. A quest, deception, and lack of knowledge. Slow advance towards better understanding and a final battle. L Hoffmann’s use of multiple point-of-view may cause some confusion at the beginning of the narrative. It is necessary back-story that sets the scene for the protagonist’s journey from living with half-truths to identifying reality. Through that journey, she learns to forgive, to love, and to redeem old evils. This is a must read for fantasy lovers.

 

 

 

Raymond St Elmo, The Origin of Birds in the Footprints of Writing

A Book of Imagination and Wit

This made me smile and laugh from the beginning to the end

The Origin of Birds in the Footprints of Writing: what an unusual book. Just finished reading it. Here’s a book of magic realism if ever there was one. The birds and books intermingle as metaphors for one another. True, St Elmo owes a heavy debt to Calvino, Poe, Chesterton, and Lewis Carroll. But his work is its own, funny, thoughtful and mesmerizing. Dream sequences intermingle with economic worries and workplace policy. The balance between workaday trouble and weird, wonderful scenarios could tumble any moment, but we (the readers) are safe in the hands of a master plotter, a programmer extraordinaire, and a court jester turned magician all in one.

 

 

Wendy H Jones, Killer’s Countdown

Written with knowledge and expertise.

Jones presents ‘Killer’s countdown’ in elegant prose. The narrative presents the reader with two protagonists: the killer and the (female) police officer. This way, we get confronted with the chilling thoughts and arrogance of a serial killer. Policework must be meticulous, and hence the detective can appear somewhat dry. This clash makes the contest between the characters all the more spine-tingling. We’re a long way from Agatha Christie: this has a far tougher substance. Jones handles the dual point of view with great skill.

 

 

Tina-Marie Miller, Everything Happens for a Reason

Touching and surprising

Miller takes on a difficult subject in ‘Everything Happens for a Reason’. This is a narrative about bereavement and learning to live again. She analyses family ties, conflicts, and deep affection in a thoughtful narrative that touches the reader and opens for discussions. On top of this, Miller’s prose flows artlessly. A poignant book that’s well worth reading. Highly recommended.

 

 

Ellie Midwood, A Motherland’s Daughter, A Fatherland’s Son

Read it!

War makes us suffer needlessly. And Midwood makes a clear case for conscious objectors. How does she do this? Through showing the misery two young people go through, especially how easy it is to become debased through forced actions. At the same time, A Motherland’s Daughter, A Fatherland’s Son is a heartachingly beautiful Romeo and Juliet story. Here we aren’t confronted with two families in Verona, but with a world at war. Strongly written and utterly convincing. Highly recommended.

 

 

© HMH, 2018

Love Affair

 

On the rooftops of fish-town

The passionate pigeons

Roost and revel in twosome bliss.

Evening sun and a lonely antenna

Provide them a stronghold

Opposing the earth.

Here they coo their infinite mantras.

 

Kissing and billing,

Their beaks start to clatter

And feathers are flying,

The action direct:

The lad mounts the lady

Convincing and straight.

With fluttering wings

Once

Twice

Three times he conquers.

 

Emerging victorious,

Needless to say:

This cock, to be sure, remains

King for the day.

 

From Animal Kingdom

 

 

© HMH, 2013

Balancing Laughter and Tears in Life and the Arts


Having just watched Saving Mr Banks, brought it home to me how finely tuned contrasting emotions must be. Not just in a script or a book: this is something vital to humans. We’ve always known that, and we’ve always tried to suppress this knowledge.

Where does it start and where does it end? This search for ― for what? A balance between laughter and tears? If it was just that, it’d be easy. Easy to pinpoint a mystery that will always challenge and baffle us. What is it that brings us to split our sides laughing and cry at the same time? What is it, if it isn’t life at its purest.

The question is: how can one person put life in words? How can we create something so magical? We strive to do our best and sometimes fate bestows a gift. Mostly we just plod along searching in a mirror, darkly. What we try to find, is meaning. When everything comes together in the art, we get the feeling that we understand the biggest question of all. Why are we here? That is why we need the arts. We pour out our souls and innermost being to find this elusive balance and sometimes we have that spark. Even if it is only for a fraction of a second, we recognize it, and for that split second the world makes sense. We see that human beings mean to do right. We see that everybody works towards the same goal. It’s just confusion when we believe that we must stamp on other people’s toes or take away something from one another to fulfil our ambition and make sense of the senseless.

Mostly, we shy away from trying. It’s easier to make do. It is simpler to mock a search for the sublime. Sublime is scary. It’s easier to ridicule those who search and don’t find. Sadly, when we don’t start searching, we end up in frustration and tedium. This is true in life as in the arts. It is easier to go with the stream than to set out to find the sublime.

Is it necessary to give examples? While I wrote the above my mind was all over the place, from the bible to HC Andersen, from Disney to Greek tragedy, and to Shakespeare. That can be added when it’s time to publish.

It’s been a good day. The only thing missing would be working on my next book. It’s in the back of my head but must come to the fore. Tomorrow the main object will be household matters and economy, but it should be possible to find an hour at some point. I’ll do what I can. There it is again: What’s more important? Tax and accounts or writing? Writing is more important to me, but the world (or at least society and the council) expects me to sort out my tax return, keep my economy under control, pay my bills, and clean my house, clothes, and ― god knows what else. Where is the balance? Up in the air? Or crawling on the ground? How can anyone be expected to find the sublime at the bottom of a dustbin? Yet, it doesn’t matter. Everyone meets the sublime sometime. Somewhere. Will they recognize the moment? That’s the question. Is life about feeding the birds for tuppence a bag, or is it about putting the said tuppence in the bank and see it accumulate money? The choice is ours. It is a heavy responsibility.

Perhaps the Buddha had the right idea. Shake the dust off your feet and chose non-existence. Perhaps, that isn’t a choice we can consciously make. Perhaps it is a leap of faith, but who has faith these days? In a world where the oceans choke on plastic, in a world where religious and political factions kill each other and leave fugitives to starve or die, we may not have the luxury to believe. Do you believe that mermaids can attain a soul? Do you believe in fairies? Then clap.

 

 

© HMH, 2018

Sooner or Later

 

 

Sooner or later things fall into place

Sooner or later love finds its own space

We must decide if we dare or retire

When warnings forestall, and our state becomes dire

Will somebody venture or try setting foot,

Sooner or later, where none ever stood?

 

Sooner or later we’ll come to a head

Sooner or later we’ll end up in bed

Would it be wise or just terrible folly

To abide by a voice, which is never just jolly?

Impartial questions insist on their due

Sooner or later we must talk it through

 

Sooner or later you will catch my gaze

Sooner or later a fire must blaze

Oh, but who dares to lay kindle to ardour

To think of beginning the search for a harbour

While nobody promised that kind of response

Sooner or later each flame needs a sconce

 

Sooner or later or no time at all

Sooner or later we reach out or call

Still there is no guarantee we won’t founder

Perhaps we were just meant to meet and to wonder

Whether that split second captured our souls

Sooner or later defining our roles

 

Sooner or later our timing must slow

Sooner or later we surely will know

Was it supposed to be real and consuming?

Was it the chance in a million for blooming?

Maybe each human must search an adventure

And pledge every thought or emotion to nature

 

From Aspects of Attraction

 

© HMH, 2014

Wrath — Burning Tree

 

Looking through my older aquarelles, this one caught my eye. It may not be perfect, but I think the idea is good. It might be an idea to develop the theme further.

A friend once said: your trees look like they’re ready to fly off at any moment. I’m not sure that I agree: this one looks like the tree-trunk would be too heavy to fly.

Personally, I like the facial expression and the ‘movement’ in the flames. The roots seem too small though.

 

 

Aquarelle on paper

 

© HMH, 1996/2018